Maryland police accountability bill might be reshaped

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
One of the most criticized elements of an omnibus police accountability bill might be altered.

One of the chief architects of an omnibus police accountability bill said Tuesday that she'll push for changes to provisions advocates say would move the state backward.

Sen. Catherine E. Pugh told her Senate colleagues that "there's always room for improvement" and suggested eliminating a section in the legislation that would have given police unions broad sway over certain disciplinary hearings.

The measure is one of nearly two-dozen changes to police discipline, training and accountability being contemplated in Annapolis in the wake of unrest in Baltimore last spring. A task force co-chaired by Pugh, who is running for mayor, and Del. Curt Anderson, a fellow Baltimore Democrat, recommended changes they said were aimed at restoring trust between communities and police.

Many recommendations concerned how police officers accused of wrong-doing are investigated and held accountable within the department. Among the many proposals, one would allow an officer accused of police brutality and the police union to name two members of a three-member discipline panel reviewing that officer's conduct.

Pugh told the Judicial Proceedings Committee she wants to take that provision out. It had been characterized by civil rights and police reform advocacy groups as a step backward. Police chiefs and sheriffs, including Baltimore Police Chief Kevin Davis, also recommended changing it.

The Maryland Fraternal Order of Police have resisted most changes to police discipline processes, arguing that the proposals erode police officers' rights and would do little to restore public trust.

Democrats who lead the General Assembly are pushing for the omnibus bill. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has not taken a position on the legislation, but four state agencies he oversees submitted testimony against it.

Pugh also said she would seek to rewrite one of the training provisions to clarify how it would affect the Maryland State Police. That change, she said, would reduce the annual cost of the bill from $6 million to $3 million.

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